Exception Rejections by Bill Stephens

Author Bill Stephens

Before I became an indie author, I did serious agent querying for my current project, and I learned that agents have discovered something more demeaning and insulting than the “Dear Author” form letter/post card/email rejection. I’ve dubbed it the “Exception Rejection.”

Here’s how it’s explained on the agent websites: “We receive such a high volume of queries, that we respond only to those in which we are interested. If you have not heard from us in four to six weeks then consider that we have passed on your project. Do not under any circumstances inquire about your submission or we will put your genitals in a vise and force you to watch us eviscerate your first-born. ” Actually, I added that last part.

Back in the Underwood Typewriter days agents/publishers would not accept carbon copies of query submissions, because that hinted at multiple submissions. They expected authors to query exclusively with original drafts. Then wait six to eight weeks for a response. That meant an author could query a maximum of six agents/publishers per year. Any author over fifty would die of old age long before he or she got an agent/publisher acceptance.

I ran the numbers and here are the statistics of current agent querying:

65% will accept only email queries. (“We are a green company blah, blah)

20% will accept both hard copy and email queries

Of the 85% who will accept email queries, 80% will only accept a one-page query (“We will contact you if we wish to see more of your material.”)

Reading these one-page email queries from the screen takes less time than printing them, so I did some research on the time required to reject to an email query after reading:

1) Click on “reply” 3 seconds

2) Paste in the “Dear Author” rejection 15 seconds

3) Click on “send” 2 seconds

Total time required to reject to an email query 20 seconds.

So what the “Exception Rejection” agents are saying is, “All the time, money, and expense you’ve invested in this query is not worth 20 seconds of my time.” Then we authors sit around for a month or two wondering did the query even get to the agent, will I get a response, or what the heck is gong on here – when the agent could have responded in 20 seconds. Oh! Yes I did study the time taken responding to the SASE. The response averages 30 seconds to stuff the “Dear Author” rejection into the SASE, seal it, and throw it in the “out” box.

Some email only agents set up auto responders on their websites that notify the author that their query was received. This is very easy to do and cost nothing. I think this shows a little respect for the author’s efforts.

Short of asking authors to write their own rejection letters, I don’t see any worse affront coming down the publishing pipe than the “Exception Rejection.” We may not be far from the day when today’s gatekeepers of publishing receive a notice reading, “If you have not received a pay check in the last four to six weeks you can assume that you are no longer needed.”

Bill Stephens is a freelance writer and business consultant who has written over 1,000 weekly wine columns for Harte-Hanks, Murdoch, and Hearst news papers. His feature articles on wine, food, travel, and outdoor appeared in Wine News, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Food & Wine, Chef, and Field & Stream. Horizons Past , a mainstream love story, was written under the pseudonym Lisa Ray and published as an e-book . Vámonos! a humorous adventure novel is currently available on Amazon, and his third novel, Woke Up This Morning, is soon to be released You can learn more about him on his Blog and on his Amazon author page.

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32 thoughts on “Exception Rejections by Bill Stephens”

  1. I loved this post. There was a time in the distant past when I submitted something I had written to two publishers. Your timeline is incredibly accurate. I received rejections from both and it took me quite a while to assume my piece was horrible and unworthy. That soon became an internal voice telling me not to bother writing because I evidently was a terrible writer. Clearly, that internal message did not linger forever. Thank you for the smile today.

  2. I love this post, Bill. I laughed through the whole thing – I can so totally identify with everything you said since I started out a very long time ago and the traditional route was really all that was available to me. Thanks for sending this to us!

  3. Bill, agents simply took a well used leaf from many publisher’s operations book. Publishers have been doing this for quite a while. The, “will reply only if interested” tactic was too handy for agents to pass up. Of course when the Big Boys of publishing began to close their doors on submissions for months on end, and only looked at agented MS, it got rid of a lot of their slush piles. Not daunted, writers turned to agents. So what happened? Agents grew a slush pile of their own. Hence their, “will reply only if interested” form of communication.

    Seems writers are always behind a new 8 ball.

    BOOKS for KIDS – Manuscript Critiques

  4. The same tactics are used for folks applying for jobs. Very sad.
    Fortunately I did some research before I went to query route. I had already found out that getting a publisher was less likely than winning a major lottery so I went the Indie route. (Well, sort of, iUniverse. I know better than that now, too.)

  5. OMG Bill,

    Love your hat, shirt, and skillful presentation of this topic.

    When I attended writer’s conferences (a LONG time ago), panels featuring agents who sat on their lofty onstage perches faced the standing-room-only audience of lowly authors and had the audacity to tell us what they want and what they don’t want from us.

    NEVER (scuze the caps) did they disclose the fact that we lowly authors will be paying high commissions for their services, should they stoop to accept our books.

    I’m not stupid, I swear, but they left us with the impression that publishing houses pay them for having brought in a fine catch! Of course now, I feel stupid for not having asked, “How exactly, do you get paid?”

    I hope those agents (many of whom are attorneys, that’s what they like to crow about), are standing in line for unemployment checks, right now. Is that mean-spirited? No. I simply love to see justice served.

    Thanks for posting an excellent lesson in mathematics and logic.

  6. Agents only get paid when your books sell. They take a percentage ( noted in your contract with them) of the royalties and your advance. Publishers do not pay agents. However, many agents have worked as editors for publishers , and this gives them an IN into the business, and a feel for IF your book will sell – or not. Agent and editor advice is very subjective – as proved by the many rejections famous authors have had for their first books. The books that eventually made them famous!

    BOOKS for KIDS – Manuscript Critiques

  7. I too started out a very long time ago with the traditional route, but I got lucky on one rejection in that it was to my face, so didn’t have to wait the ordinary 6-8 weeks or longer. The rejection I got first hand from the editor because I was part of a chapter of RWA and got to be the lucky one who picked her up at the airport and drove her another 2 hours to our conference we put on. At the conference round table I got to hear how mine just wasn’t working and they didn’t want it. But your post was right on, I can imagine more and more companies will go green and perhaps most will have the ‘balls’ to use those 20 seconds wisely and let us down quicker. One can only hope. Thank you

  8. The rejection that sticks in my mind was a returned hc query that I had sent to an agent. I didn’t receive the standard form letter, or postcard. This agent was so pressed for time that they just scrawled across my query,”Not what I’m looking for.” Oh yes, and the agent promptly stuffed it in my sase, no time wasted their either. I have saved all my first rejections, hc and email and plan to make a big ole collage and hang it in my office.

    Thanks for the morning chuckles.

  9. That wasn’t a big shot London agent was it, aronjoice? Because it’s just too close to the one I received; except mine was even briefer: ‘Not for me!’ she scrawled across my carefully written query letter!

  10. After hearing/reading all the rotten stories of rejection. I simply decided to stay Indie- despite having a couple agents kind of interested in my work. They weren’t agents from big publishing companies, so I didn’t think what they had to offer was any better than what I could do for myself. And, I think I was right.

    Insightful post!

  11. I’ve actually just remembered a story from an author I was talking to years ago, who became so incensed by the standard rejection letters; he was convinced that his sample chapters were not even being read. He took the operational instructions for his washing machine and formatted it into the semblance of a sample chapter and sent it off… You guessed it! Six weeks later he got a standard rejection letter.

  12. Too funny, Bill. As usual, you are perceptive and adroit in your observations about the industry. It is still better to meet editors and agents in person and then query at their request. At least you can then put a face to the rejection!

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